Methodists in Singapore gathered from 23 to 25 May 2019 to celebrate our Wesleyan heritage and commemorate what it means to be Methodist. The annual Aldersgate SG event is usually organised around 24 May, the day in 1738 when Methodism’s founder John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” by the Holy Spirit’s assurance of his salvation.
Held at Paya Lebar Methodist Church, this year’s lectures and celebration service carried the theme “A Task Unfinished: Together in God’s Mission”. It was a celebration not of the man, but of the mission God gave to Wesley and all Christians—Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach His gospel.
Bishop Emeritus (BE) Dr Hwa Yung, who served as Bishop of The Methodist Church in Malaysia from 2004–12, gave the two Aldersgate Lectures.
Lecture One: World Mission in the Methodist Spirit
Wesley famously wrote: “I look upon all the world as my parish.” By that, according to BE Dr Hwa Yung, Wesley meant firstly that where God sent him, he would go. Secondly, he was challenging the problem of nominal Christianity. Thirdly, Wesley saw the whole world as his parish.
In his lifetime, Wesley traversed 250,000 miles on horseback throughout England, Scotland and Wales to preach more than 40,000 sermons. Because of widespread nominalism, Wesley felt that the “baptised heathen” in England needed the gospel just as much as the “unbaptised believer” in Africa or China. He preached in Britain and America, but was prepared to go to “Abyssinia or China, or whithersoever it shall please God” to call him.
To Wesley, Methodism is missions embodied; the Church and missions—both at home and overseas—are inseparable. In the Methodist Spirit, the whole Church must be on fire to spread the gospel of Christ, and not leave it just to the tiny minority who are missionaries.
Lecture 2: Key Challenges in World Mission in Our Generation
BE Dr Hwa Yung highlighted that since the spread of Christianity to Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of Christians has shifted from the West to the non-Western world.
“Much of the energy for Christian missions in the 21st century will probably, therefore, come from the non-Western world. In the west, the liberal churches will become increasingly irrelevant,” BE Dr Hwa Yung said. “In a […] post-Christian and secular environment, much of [the] spiritual energy [of the Western churches] will be sapped by having to face an increasingly hostile spiritual and social environment outside of the church.”
Nominalism remains a rising challenge, even in the growing non-Western Church, as do divisions, lack of social involvement, overemphasis on megachurches, inadequate pastoral oversight, autocratic leadership and misuse of church funds. To stem these challenges, Christian fundamentals need to be in place, advised BE Dr Hwa Yung. He mentioned that this was the reason the early Methodist Church developed its General Rules (now the Book of Discipline) as a guide for holy living, and held class meetings as a means to hold each member accountable.
How, then, do we do missions in perhaps the most Westernised city in Asia?
BE Dr Hwa Yung said: “We all believe what Paul says in Romans 1:16 that ‘the gospel […] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,’ but for our listeners to believe, they need to see that the message of salvation is relevant to them today”. He shared that missionaries with the greatest long-term impact are those who master the local language, immerse themselves into the native culture and build deep relationships with those they are trying to reach. “The Church,” he said, “cannot be 3000 miles wide but only one inch deep.”
Quoting John Wesley: “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” BE Dr Hwa concluded his lectures with the challenge: “Should not this be our vision too? And will we go where the Spirit leads?”
Sheri Goh is the Editor of Methodist Message.
Photos courtesy of Paya Lebar Methodist Church